September 23, 2015 / 9:54 PM / 2 years ago

Refugee crisis is personal for support group head David Miliband

4 Min Read

International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband is seen at a refugee camp for Syrians on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 14, 2015.Alkis Konstantinidis

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ask David Miliband, former British foreign secretary and head of humanitarian relief group International Rescue Committee, about the "flood" of migrants and refugees in Europe and he bristles.

Miliband, who is calling for greater global involvement to handle the crisis unfolding across Europe, recalls how his grandfather was refused entry to Britain in 1948 due to fears of "a flood" into the country.

His father and grandfather went to Britain in 1940 as Jewish refugees after Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, but his grandfather returned to Belgium in 1945 to find his wife and daughter who spent the war there. He was refused entry again.

"My grandfather applied with the rest of the family to come and join (my father) but he was told he could not because of the flood," Miliband told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in his office in midtown Manhattan.

"He eventually came in '56."

His family's treatment has made the crisis personal for Miliband, who left British politics in 2013 to become president and chief executive of the IRC, which provides support for refugees in 40 countries and resettles refugees in 22 U.S. cities.

Miliband said the only way forward is a global effort to tackle the causes and symptoms of the current crisis.

"Our perspective is that this a global challenge, and all rich countries should be playing their part both in helping the victims and in trying to support political and diplomat efforts to tackle the problem at source," he said.

"The fact that people are literally lapping up on the shores of Europe tells you that sticking your head in the sand is certainly not moral but it is not wise either."

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, primarily Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and Africans fleeing war, repression and poverty, have fled to Europe this year, leaving European nations grappling with how to deal with the rising numbers.

Miliband said European nations must follow through on an agreement struck on Tuesday to distribute asylum seekers around the bloc according to mandatory national quotas but said the United States and Middle East nations needed to open up more.

He warned that without "radical action at source," the situation would get worse with Syria's neighbors under great pressure.

UNHCR figures show Lebanon is currently home to 1.2 million Syrian refugees, Jordan 630,000, Turkey 1.9 million and Iraq 250,00 but a United Nations appeal for Syrian refugees in those countries was only one-third funded.

"That is a recipe for refugee flow. We have been warning of it for nine months," he said. "If we don't shore up those countries, then people will move on."

"No one pretends that refugee resettlement ends the war in Syria, but it's a tangible contribution to the lives of a significant number of people and a genuine action of solidarity with those neighboring states bearing the greatest strain," he said.

Miliband, whose brother Ed this year led Britain's Labour Party to its worst general election defeat since 1983, refused to comment on Labour's new leadership or whether he would return to British politics.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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